Alan Haselden

Alan Haselden – Can We Just Get to the Point?

Duff's guest this week is Alan Haselden. Alan had a long and successful corporate career before entering into local politics. Alan shares over 50 years of lessons with us such as "Identify bad actors and weed them out", "Never lose sight of the detail", and " "Can we just get to the point" among others.

About Alan Haselden 

Alan Haselden is a graduate mechanical engineer from the University of Auckland and enhanced his professional qualifications later with an MBA from the University of New England (Australia) and a diploma from the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Prior to retirement from full time work, for 16 years Alan, as Managing Director-Asia Pacific, lead the operations of Garlock, the major subsidiary of EnPro Industries (NYSE:NPO).

Since 2012, Alan has been an elected representative in Australian local government and sits on the board of Hydraulink, a trans-Tasman business in the fluid power industry.  He is also a director of the National Space Society of Australia

Lesson 1: Identify bad actors and weed them out 08m 51s.

Lesson 2: Identify the contributors and look after them 11m 00s.

Lesson 3: Deference, politeness and humility are universal 15m 22s.

Lesson 4: Keep looking out 20m 40s.

Lesson 5: Never lose sight of the detail 23m 57s.

Lesson 6: Be wary of acquisitions 29m 46s.

Lesson 7: Please don’t give me data without a conclusion and a recommendation 35m 11s.

Lesson 8: Can we just get to the point? 37m 55s.

Lesson 9: Try to pre-empt what your boss will ask you to do 40m 20s.

Lesson 10: Take care of the top line and you’ll end up paying less attention to the expenses 43m 05s.



Duff Watkins: [00:00:00] Hello, welcome to the podcast, 10 Lessons it Took Me 50 Years to Learn. Where we provide shortcuts to excellence by dispensing wisdom, not just knowledge or mere fact, but to an international audience of rising leaders. My name is Duff Watkins, and I am your host. This podcast is sponsored by the professional development forum, which helps professionals. 

Of any age accelerate their performance and the modern workplace. When this podcast you’ll hear honest, practical insights that you’re not going to find in a textbook because it takes 50 years to learn these lessons. That’s why we call it 10 lessons. It took me two years to learn. Today’s guest is Alan Haselden, formerly managing director Asia Pacific of a division of a large billion-dollar companies called in pro industries. 

A company that touches your life every day in so many ways that you’ve never heard of. That’s not important. What is important? And he can’t say this, but I can, because it’s my podcast. When he was managing director of Asia Pacific, that subsidiary was the international jewel in the crown, and then he left and now it’s not. 

I’m just saying, I’m just saying you can draw your own conclusions. Good. Hey, Alan. Welcome to the show you, when you left business, you entered local politics. I I’ve, I’ve never really understood that. I always heard that was a Viper’s den have I heard wrong? Am I right?  

Alan Haselden: [00:01:18] Well, it, it, it, no, I think.  

Duff Watkins: [00:01:21] Be a politician now choose those words carefully. 

Alan Haselden: [00:01:25] I’d secretly always harboured an interest in politics. So, when I retired from full-time business, I had an opportunity from a previous federal MP who invited me to to participate in electoral process. 

So, I went through the selection and became a local government politician and everything I’d ever imagined about politics at all levels is turned out to be absolutely true. And I think I might’ve said to you, the fundamental difference is that you don’t get to choose who you have to work with. You just get thrown in as part of the mix and you have to form associations, working relationships with a whole spectrum of people that you would otherwise probably never have encountered through life. So, it’s a fascinating journey and I thoroughly enjoy it. 

Duff Watkins: [00:02:23] I know you are a diligent public servant. You had a long business career. Do you remember your first lesson in business?  

Alan Haselden: [00:02:41] Duff, vividly. It was my first role as a general manager. It was a small industrial spinoff from a from a much larger group. And I sat down to my first board meeting, and we probably had at the time 20 employees, in a diverse business, a lot of stuff, manufacturing, distribution, sales, the whole gamut. 

And the director of operations of the parent company said to me, can I have a look at your organization chart? And I naively having studied business, should’ve seen this coming. I said, well, no, I haven’t got around to that. This is just a small enterprise.  We don’t need an organization. So that was my first lesson. I was absolutely, and quite rightly held down. So organization charts have become pivotal throughout my whole business career.  The first lesson, the organization chart shows people where they are and with the job description, shows them what their responsibilities are. 

And I think not a day, or a week goes by that we don’t see instances of people just not understanding where they are. They point fingers in wrong directions saying this wasn’t my responsibility and they may will be right. It may not have been adequately defined. And a frequent question I struck throughout my business career was people saying, I’m not sure where I fit. 

Well, the organization chart puts it there in black and white, so, and it’s a living document. It should be, it’s not something that’s stuck away in a manual somewhere. It evolves as the organization evolves. So, I placed a lot of importance on that, and I’ll never forget my humiliation at that first meeting. 

Duff Watkins: [00:04:18] As I understand that the organizational chart came from the military, which as you know, delineates your rank so with one casual glance at your sleeve, tells me where you fit in the organization.  That originates with the Roman legions. 

I remember Professor Fred Hilmer at the graduate school of management saying it’s worked pretty well over the last, oh, how many centuries? Just having a structure in which people can slot in.  

Alan Haselden: [00:04:54] I remember in my early business studies reading for the first time about the so-called matrix organization.  I still wonder to this day how that works. I mean, because people, need, they appreciate, and they work best under structure.  

Duff Watkins: [00:05:08] Every time I see a dotted line on an organizational chart, I know there’s going to be problems. 

That’s the truth of the matter we both been there.  

Question for you. What have you unlearned? And by that, I mean, something you absolutely positively knew to be true then, but now, well, maybe, you’re not so sure. In fact, maybe you were even wrong. 

Alan Haselden: [00:05:35] Duff, you’ve got a habit of asking incisive question. This one really got me because I think in my youthful naivety, I just, and I suppose it reflects my upbringing, I believed in people’s intrinsic honesty and goodwill and, regrettably and much to my chagrin and through really a number of instances in my business life, I’ve been confronted with fraud, with people who simply won’t tell the truth, or commit an action which they know to be wrong. And yet will try and deceive the organization or you in, into believing that it’s right. So that’s, that’s my harsh untruth.   

Duff Watkins: [00:06:28] Not all people.  Some people can’t help themselves.  An associate of mine got promoted to head a subsidiary, overseas, out of Australia.  He said, a couple of months ago I didn’t even know what a forensic accountant was; now I’m up to my ass in them because there’s so much corruption going on in the organization!  

Alan Haselden: [00:06:52] One of the things I put my hand up for on local government was to participate in the audit committee. It was this whole appreciation of the fundamental issues with some aspects of humanity that prompted that involvement. 

It’s not surprising that local government right across Australia, and I’m sure right around the world is perceived, unfortunately, by corrupt practices.  That leads into the whole governance issue and the importance of governance in organizations. And as I’ve gone through my business career, I’ve really appreciated formally and informally the importance of good governance and organizations being able to hold your head up high.  

Duff Watkins: [00:07:31] Jeff Bleich, former ambassador of the U S to Australia said to me that the dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is that everybody thinks it’s two guys in a garage coming up with the next big thing, but the biggest funder of Silicon Valley is the government, the government subsidies and grants.  Without a government, you wouldn’t have Silicon Valley. You wouldn’t have those two guys in the garage because the reality of the matter is the government is a patron of a lot of innovations. 

Alan Haselden: [00:08:03] What I’m trying to say we read all too often about people with snouts in the trough, wherever there’s government money, be aware of those that are seeking to get their hands on it.,  

Duff Watkins: [00:08:25]. Let me just go through my list here. You say, identify bad actors and weed them out. What’s a bad actor?  

Alan Haselden: [00:08:33] I remember in fact, attending a seminar on this very issue many years ago. But it just simply reinforced my own perception that there are people in an organization that, if you’re not careful, are acting against your better interests, against the better interests of the organization. They’re just I, evil is far too strong, but they’re just corrosive destructive influences working quite often and usually behind your back. 

And it’s very important that you don’t say, oh, that’s just a little manifestation of human behaviour. I better get on with it. You really have to find those people and remove them because they are destructive to the bigger organization.  

Duff Watkins: [00:09:18] You touched upon it before. There is a darker aspect of people, I suppose. By the way, that was a rhetorical question.  All those bad actors, I can give you their names and their email addresses and their phone numbers, Alan, if you really need them.  There are just some vile people in business. 

However, in my experience, and I’m sure yours, most of them, you meet a lot of wonderful people in business.  

Alan Haselden: [00:09:42] You certainly do. I think one of the things for an emerging executive and an emerging leader is to be very careful of people who’ve been with the organization for a long time, that also had or have aspirations to the role that you just assumed. 

And time doesn’t necessarily assuage that.  It can just make it worse.  I’ve experienced that a couple of times in my career. Conversely, of course, to your point, most people are tremendous.  The great challenge of management is to find where people’s strengths are and put them in those roles. 

Within that cabal of really good performance, there are some people that really make a difference to you.  One of the lessons I’ve learned in business is to identify those people and look after them because, when they’re gone, there was a void, which you didn’t even know existed.  So look after your top performers, they make such a difference to everything.  

Duff Watkins: [00:10:47]   Why is that so damn hard for companies to do? I mean, how difficult can it be to appreciate the people who are doing the heavy lifting and working the extra hours, going the extra mile?  In my experience, ignoring of the genuine contributors happens all the bloody time. 

Alan Haselden: [00:11:15] I think that generally corporate life, business life, and just the whole evolution of a business does allow management leaders to identify the good actors. I think the problem with bad actors is this emerging, so-called science, of HR.  

Duff Watkins: [00:11:44] When did HR become science?! I missed that.  

Alan Haselden: [00:11:47] I’m sure the professionals in the game call it a science, at least management science.  I vividly remember a situation a few years ago, sitting with the very, very senior executive within the global organization and we were talking about the need to just get the best people and get rid of the bad ones.  And somebody put up this argument, well, we’ve got to be mindful of local HR laws and regulations, and we’ve got to be mindful of people’s sensitivities and… my boss’s boss stood up banged the table and said something to the effect of, if we allow this sort of thinking to pervade our decisions as business leaders, we might as well just shut shop tomorrow.   

I think that’s the problem. We have too many social and legal constraints that make it very challenging to the point where a business leader faced with somebody who’s not performing, just doesn’t get around to doing something about it.  But they should, because the morning after it’s done, the sun comes up and it’s brighter than ever.  

Duff Watkins: [00:13:04] I want to take the other side of that. I mean, because that sounds like corporate life, turfing people out, creating unemployment. 

Most participants in any endeavour are within one standard deviation of the mean.  In other words, they’re average. Not good enough to promote, not bad enough to fire. They’re just average.  It’s like a bell-shaped curve.  So, you can’t turf everybody out and everybody’s not going to be a high performer. Seems to me all business can do is give people an opportunity to self-sort, which they usually do pretty quickly.  

Alan Haselden: [00:13:46] That’s a very, very fair comment, and speaking of the bell curve, I think the role of all of u,s particularly as business leaders, is to shift the centre of that bell curve to the right. 

I’m not talking about weeding out people who are average or slightly below average. I’m talking about the bad actor, the person that in your organization, that behind your back around the so-called water cooler, undermining your decision, creating dissension amongst people.  That’s what I mean by bad actors. Not people who are struggling by virtue of birth. Because you’re quite right that, one of the great challenges of management is to position people, recognize people’s strengths and put them in it. And goodness me, humanity’s got some incredible strengths. 

Duff Watkins: [00:14:38] Fortunately we do.  This next one perplexes me, Alan:  deference, politeness and humidity are universal.  Now, if they’re universal, how come we need to discuss it? And by the way, that’s not been my experience.  

Alan Haselden: [00:14:54] I, I suppose the need for deference and politeness and respect is universal.  The behaviour is not always.  Some years I was, I was quite active in China and that was a real revelation to me that because Chinese society is different to Western society.  I was employing a senior person to be essentially my right-hand person in China. 

When you’re in a foreign country, you need somebody to bridge the gap between your world and his world. And I always had some concerns about this guy, that he was very, to use a colloquialism, he was very bolshie.  He would sit in a meeting and would, if a customer or business associate was sitting across the table and said something that my colleague didn’t agree with, he’d stand up, bang the table.  It just, it unnerved me, but I thought maybe this is a cultural thing, but it wasn’t, it was overt rudeness. 

It crystallized to me when we were visiting a business in Shanghai and as we were walking out of the building, the quite senior owner of the business walked alongside me and said to me very quietly, Mr. Haselden, he said we think that your colleague is a very proud person.  

He got the adjective wrong but what he meant was this guy just doesn’t know his boundaries and is impolite to the point of rudeness.  

Another instance, I was in Tokyo and we were taken to a little mom and pop restaurant. The food in Japan is some of the world’s best. And this particular night was no exception, but it was a very small restaurant and the fellow that I was with was from San Francisco.  I always thought that people from San Francisco, just by virtue of where they live, we’re worldly sensitive people because there’s a lot of Asians, specifically Japanese, in San Francisco. 

Alan Haselden: [00:17:10] And within earshot of our Japanese hosts, this fellow made very derogatory remarks about the food. After 10 minutes and me whispering quietly to him saying, look, please don’t talk like this. 

He very loudly announced that he’d seen a Wendy’s on the way to the restaurant and was quite keen to get to a Wendy’s.  

Duff Watkins: [00:17:30] Wendy’s being an American fast-food chain. 

Alan Haselden: [00:17:32]. It’s just Western fast food.  

Sometimes I would see very gung-ho people, quite frequently in sales and you’ve got to be by, by nature, a reasonably extroverted personality, but know when to be the chameleon, know when to tone that down. I think that people everywhere, from my experience through life, both in business and without, people across the planet have norms of behaviour, which are acceptable, they have essentially the same values. 

Everybody wants a better life for their children. Everybody wants to just get on with things. If you push against that tide, loudly and aggressively in particular, that’s just not the way to do it. Know when to just be a little humble. And show a little deference.  

Duff Watkins: [00:18:39] Over my career, I’ve looked for and seized opportunities to shut the hell up.  And you need to learn to do that. 

Alan Haselden: [00:18:47] It’s the old adage, you’re given two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.  

Duff Watkins: [00:18:56] International business teams have a certain uniform, certain way to look and a certain way to act, certain way to talk, a certain way to conduct yourself, to deport yourself.  And if you want to be on the international stage, you need to learn that, and you may not be born with it, but you can learn it. And it’s not that hard. It’s not beyond you.  

Alan Haselden: [00:19:17] If there were two words that you could use to sum it up it would it be to step back.  Don’t charge ahead just because you’re from Australia the United States or Great Britain or, Germany.  Don’t assume that gives you some right to tell other people in less developed nations, how to do things, how to act. 

Duff Watkins: [00:19:40] Because you’re a white Westerner, doesn’t give you authority.  Lesson number four keep looking out.   

Alan Haselden: [00:19:48] Early in my career, I read a book by Ted Leavitt, marketing guru.  

Alan Haselden: [00:20:00] He wrote this book called Marketing Myopia. I’ve never forgotten it.  One of these business books, you think, ah, this is going to be a chore and it was just riveting. And I remember the lessons to this day and it simply says, we all get bound in our own little constricted world. 

I happened to be in the fluid power industry for a while. And somebody said to me, once you’re in that, you get hydraulic oil in your veins and they never leave you. That’s just simply not true. It’s saying is that people just get constricted by their own particular industry and their world.   If you don’t look out there, there are seismic shifts, all the time, in fact, they’re probably accelerating.  They’ve been accelerating from the dawn of the industrial revolution, probably even before then, so be aware of what’s happening out there. 

Don’t assume that your product line or your processes are sacrosanct, that there’s not something coming at you. Anybody watching this podcast would sit back and think, you know, that’s absolutely right. Why does he have to say it?  Because we just get constrained by our own little world. 

That’s what strategic planning is all about. That’s why it’s so important.   

Duff Watkins: [00:21:18] Was there a business that was prepared, that actually planned for COVID-19 the pandemic?  Yes, there was. And because they do strategic war game planning, one of the scenarios they had was war planning for pandemic.  Company was AT&T. 

Then all of a sudden, March 20 rolled around, and it happened. So they had a plan. How are their profits doing? Very well, because they had a plan. They actually schemed for it. I mean they scheme for a lot of things, but that’s the kind of planning, the, the strategizing, that companies need to do, because things change fast. 

As we all found out, this March 2020 when pandemic erupted. I mean, just like that our society changed. I am amazed at how quickly business social interactions changed, and those things you can’t plan for. A lot of things happen you cannot plan for, because you simply don’t have the foresight. 

Alan Haselden: [00:22:20] My central point is to just look out, look beyond your immediate horizon. What are the potential social, strategic, technological issues that are emerging that could, might derail your whole business existence?  

Duff Watkins: [00:22:42] My take on that is, wonder, allow yourself to wonder what could happen, what might happen. 

Point number five, never lose sight of the detail. This sounds like a micromanager to me. And sounds like an engineer speaking, which you, you happen to be. 

Alan Haselden: [00:22:56] Yeah, that’s my background.  We can’t read too much into that statement. Detail is, down to the minutia or it’s to some intermediate level. 

That’s what I mean, but unless you know what your organization is providing to the customer you cannot effectively manage it. You can’t place your people properly. You can’t invest properly. You have to know really what’s going on. And the bigger thing the organization becomes, the more complex that task becomes. 

Not only within their staff, but most importantly, within their customer base can respond quickly to things. And there’s a political analogy for this. The minister who’s caught by the media that doesn’t know about the details of something which looks like the proverbial deer in the headlights. 

That’s not to say that they have to know every aspect, but they have to know what’s going on. What are the issues are surrounding it?  I remember vividly a colleague of mine that I went through university with. He was heading up a manufacturing operation. And the first time I walked into his office on a visit. 

I was struck by how completely clean his was in contrast to mine which was littered with stuff.  I said to him, oh boy, you work in a different environment than what I do. And he said, well, it’s not necessary to be involved in the detail.  You just simply delegate everything.  Well, unfortunately the organization didn’t last very much longer than that. And I think one of the reasons that it didn’t was that he didn’t really know what was going on. He just thought it was just put a tie on and have a presence. 

That’s not what it’s about. This is the,  

Duff Watkins: [00:24:54] The idea is you want to empower people and you want to delegate things, give them latitude to do their job.  The trouble is they don’t bloody do it. They keep screwing it up, so you can delegate, and they don’t deliver.  That’s the problem that this guy I’m working with.  He’s getting hammered by the CEO to delegate more, delegate more, and he delegates, but it doesn’t get done. And so, whatever they say, you’re paid to know what’s going on in your life, wherever you are. 

Alan Haselden: [00:25:40] I think also if you demonstrate an understanding of the detail, your credibility with all stakeholders of the business rises enormously. Conversely, if you don’t know, like the politician that’s not across his brief, you’re on the back foot from day one. So that’s, I think the detail is important. 

Duff Watkins: [00:26:02] The unspoken thing about that, by the way, is it takes exertion. It takes your exertion, physical, mental, emotional, psychological to find out what’s going on in your organization. I reckon that’s one of the reasons why people don’t.  They either can’t be bothered or don’t think it’s important.  You will have to make an effort to understand what’s happening across whether it’s walking the factory or talking to people.  

Alan Haselden: [00:26:30] That’s actually, that’s a very, very good point.  That’s very good, but it does require exertion because it’s easy not to do it.  It’s easy just to tick the box.   

Duff Watkins: [00:26:43] The difficulty is the cost of acquiring accurate information is high because it takes some effort, some exertion and that’s why they used to call it management by walking around but walking around won’t do you much good. You have to engage and interact with people who know more or know different than you.  

Alan Haselden: [00:27:06] You’ve triggered another thought of mine about management by walking around. I had a boss once.  I was I was at the plant, the head office plant, a very large plant. You have probably 800, 900 people on site. I was being given a tour by my boss. 

We came across a particular division and the lead guy there, the manager of this operation, had been with the company about 35 or 40 years, who really knew this stuff.  My boss didn’t even know who he was. That was an example of lack of immersing yourself in the business. You can sit in your office or wherever you may be and can fiddle with all the strategic plans and thinking in the world but unless you know what’s going on, you’re missing the point of your leadership. 

Duff Watkins: [00:28:07] That knowledge won’t come to you, you have to go to it. 

Alan Haselden: [00:28:11] Absolutely. So, I think management by walking around was, although it is a time-honoured phrase, is not used much.  

Duff Watkins: [00:28:20] Next point, be wary of acquisitions. Now, why should I be wary of acquisition?   

Alan Haselden: [00:28:28] Every acquisition has its own culture, its own norms, its own processes, its own procedures and nowhere is that more apparent than in business activities and the problem with acquisitions being large or small is that people don’t look beyond the P and L and the balance sheet.  Let’s merge these assets, look at the financial outcomes we’re going to have just forgetting that you’ve got to take people from a particular daily business environment and put them into a different one.  You cannot expect somebody that’s been with an organization for a decade to suddenly morph overnight between Friday and Monday into a new system.  A new set of rules.  I’ve never seen it work. I never will.  I’ve seen some absolute catastrophes and fortunately I’ve seen some which over time have borne fruit, but regrettably, there are two avenues for everybody who wants growth:  rightly or wrongly you do it organically, or you do it by acquisition. 

And people spend a lot of time talking about and looking for acquisitions, but it’s just never as simple as the numbers would tell you. So that was a lesson for me. 

Duff Watkins: [00:29:57] I learned that lesson from my mother. My mother was a banker and When I was a little kid growing up, she worked for bank of Eastern, North Carolina. 

And then I was in high school. It became a bank North Carolina. Then when I went to university and became North Carolina national bank, and then it became, this is when she retired, right before it became bank of America, which is what it is today. One of the larger banks in the world, I guess. Yeah. And I remember her saying, I ain’t going through another merger.  I had no idea what that meant but the message is pretty clear, it’s not enjoyable.  

Alan Haselden: [00:30:33] There is incredible uncertainty that arises in both organizations, both the parent one and the acquired one, because everybody starts to think and they talk at home over the dinner table at night, saying I wonder how this is going to affect my job. So, and it can be months before that is resolved. 

Duff Watkins: [00:30:58] And you only need one managing director. You only need one CFO. You only need one factory manager. So, people. Companies don’t think it through. They just focus on the P and L, the good side, and they don’t appreciate fully the costs that it entails. 

Alan Haselden: [00:31:13]  It’s just driven by the spec that acquisitions primer facie are an easy way to grow the top line and everybody wants to do that. Everybody wants that, doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. Everybody wants a bigger and better top line.  

Duff Watkins: [00:31:30] Explain top line to me.   

Alan Haselden: [00:31:33] Simply revenue.  Driven in our culture towards improvement and the traditional way that’s measured in business is simply the top line and the bottom line. The fundamental guiding points.  

Duff Watkins: [00:31:46] So top line revenue, bottom line profit 

Alan Haselden: [00:31:48]. Yep. Bottom line profit and acquisitions on the face of it, the simple way to do that because organic growth is hard, but at least organic growth is within your immediate control.  It’s driven by people, by you and by the organization that you manage. So, there’s an element of predictability that’s absent with acquisitions. 

I’m not saying you’d never do acquisitions but go into it with your eyes wide open and go beyond the inventory, how the inventory is compatible, how the machinery might be compatible, how they have a customer list might be compatible. Go beyond that. Look at the impact on people and systems and try and imagine, how would I think if I was a senior top performing employee in my target acquisition, how’s he or she going to react on Monday morning when their world has changed.  That should be a fundamental part of the so-called due diligence process, way beyond just looking at the mechanics of it. The mechanics is easy. It’s the other stuff, which is hard, which makes or breaks it.   

Duff Watkins: [00:33:03] You’re reminding me of something Warren Buffet does when he’s thinking about making an acquisition or investing in a company: he hires two teams of advisors. This team, he hires to tell him why you should do it.  That team, he hires to tell him why you should not do it.  Then he listens to them and because they’re both biased and motivated he uses their motivated reasoning to provide him with a reasonably objective answer.  Seems to be working for him. I don’t think he’s hurting for money.  

Duff Watkins: [00:33:33] Number seven. This is one of my personal favourites. Don’t give me data without a conclusion and recommendation.  

Alan Haselden: [00:33:40] Well, we live in a world of data and it’s just easier and easier to get data. But I think the analogy is from the customers, who want solutions.  Customers want their world, their lives made easier. 

And so, does your boss. So, the very worst thing you can do as an employee, as a member of the business, the organization is to present your boss with spreadsheets, power points and stuff without coming to a recommendation.  Gotta make recommendations. 

Duff Watkins: [00:34:59] Which involves risk and courage because those recommendations can go wrong and can cost you, can cost the company can, can cost your job. 

Did I tell you the story about Ricardo Semler in Brazil, he was head of Semco, and he had a young marketing guy and he asked this guy to do a study about something and the guy beavers on he’s working late at night and Ricardo Semler looks in his office, and the guy is working, working, working.  So, after weeks he presents Ricardo Semler with this document. And Semler looks at this big thick document, turns to the front page, reads the synopsis, says, so you think we should do it? 

Young marketing guy says, yes, yes, sir. I think we should do it. Then Semler takes the document puts it in the shredder and says, that’s all I needed to know.  Semler says he never received another marketing document from that guy after that.  

Alan Haselden: [00:35:57] One of my experiences in the working in the government sector is the propensity of government employees to do just what your situation describes, produce this incredible report, which is repetitive. 

And I constantly say to senior people in the organization, can we just get to the point and avoid repetition. I want to know what the recommendation is almost from the top line of the business summary. I don’t want to have to wade through 10 paragraphs just to the summary before I get to the recommendation and then have to wade through a hundred-page report, which in itself is repetitive. 

So be succinct, get to the point, stand in your reputation. If you’ve carefully considered something and you think it’s right then, that’s what it has to be.   

Duff Watkins: [00:36:47] I have an example.  I was invited to provide a Tender for some business, working with the department of defence in recruiting and strategy. This is right up my alley. I can do this.  But the number of pages for the Tender, the provisions, the cover, your ass components of it… Now I know it’s the government. I know it’s public service. I know it and I was going through it page after page line, after line, until I finally said I’m no longer interested. 

I can’t even finish reading the document. It’s so arduous. And now Alan, the Australian defence forces are deprived to my services and I’m so worried about the fate of our country!  

Alan Haselden: [00:37:28] Unfortunately it’s not limited to government. Because of corporate counsels and the legal framework that we operate in globally today, even private sector tender documents are becoming more and more onerous, fewer and fewer outs trying to cover every, every eventuality considered. 

Duff Watkins: [00:37:50] With another submission that I’ll finish tonight. Again, it’s basically kind of a Tinder and there’s money involved, and you can win, you can lose. But their key question was the one that I use a lot. They said, tell us what we need to know. So, they put the onus on me to tell them what I think is important. 

And I will, because that’s the way that I operate and that, that will truncate a lot of it.  That to me a much better way of handling it.  So, I guess my interpretation, my summation is people get paid to provide conclusions and recommendations with the understanding that we’re not always going to be right. 

And yes, you can make a $500 error or $50,000 a year or $500,000 error. That’s the game that we play at a certain level, but still, that’s the job. Now, I’m saving best one for the penultimate one and in all the performance coaching I do with people, if I could just get people to do this lesson, Alan:  pre-empt what your boss would ask you to do. 

Pre-empt means do it before being asked to do it, do it before being told to do it. And young people, young leaders, young managers can do this.  Your career takes off.  

Alan Haselden: [00:39:12] It fits into the whole existence of a manager. Use initiative look objectively at what’s going on around. You ask yourself the question of whether it’s a lean manufacturing perspective or a ‘keep it simple, stupid’ thing. 

All this stuff is about people taking initiative. How can I make my world better? How can I make my bosses better?  Look at a classic story that I’ve encountered in the last few years.  A a situation where a colleague of mine was asked by his boss to retrench a significant number of global people.  And he agonized over this for some weeks and then came up with a well-presented analysis where these people could come from.  He started from the perspective that he knew the impact on these people, the law. Nobody wants to do this. It’s awful. So, he did it and he said, I want to run this past you. 

And he ran it past me. And I said, I’m going to be the devil’s advocate here. Why did I have to ask you to do this? There was a stunned silence. And this is the sort of thing, this is the latitude you’ve got as you get older and wiser.  He said to me, you’re absolutely right. 

This should not have been handed down to me. I should have been looking objectively at the performance of the group of people that I was responsible for. I should be looking at my own divisional results. And I should’ve come up with this. So, to your earlier point about effort, without effort, without emotionally effort intellectual effort physical effort, nothing is going to change. 

Nothing is going to happen, and successful people have all got those levels of energy almost a restlessness, where they constantly have their own initiative looking for ways to make things better, because by being better, everybody benefits, ultimately society benefits.   

Duff Watkins: [00:41:16] That takes us to our 10th, final point: take care of the top line and you’ll end up paying less attention to the expenses.   

Alan Haselden: [00:41:26] It’s self-evident, we become very easily enmeshed in that morass of stuff between the revenue line, the top line and the operating profit, the operating line.  This doesn’t contradict what I said earlier about cutting costs, but cost cutting in all its manifestations is a fundamental part of all business today and has been for many, many decades. It becomes particularly pressing when revenues decline. If revenues are strong and growing and doing what you hope they do, there is far less pressure to worry about what you’re paying for your freight service or, what salaries and wages. That’s not to say that they aren’t important, but if you focus as a business leader on your sales, your revenue, it comes there’s a point at which there is less pressure to look at what’s in the P and L they should always be pressured to look at it. 

But it’s not the driving force. I was told many years ago as long as the top line was looking right, you could go home on a Friday night, knock off at work at night and commute home with far less of a burden than the reverse situation.  So, look after that top line, focus on your customers.  

Duff Watkins: [00:43:04] Generating revenue covers and cure is a multitude of ills.  Because you’ve got a resource to solve problems. Now, does this contradict what you were saying about be wary of those acquisitions?   

Alan Haselden: [00:43:24] Acquisitions are seen as the, particularly the so-called bolt-on acquisition. acquisitions are ways to get big chunks of revenue. So, on Monday morning, when the two businesses are beginning the merging process, you’ve got at least the short-term benefit of that big chunk of top line.  But with acquisitions in my experience, it doesn’t last that long before the issues below the top line start to manifest themselves and become big problems, like a shot of espresso for the organization’s metabolism. You know, it’s a big, it’s a jolt. It fades pretty quickly and there’s no nutrition. 

The other thing that’s challenging in this area is, and many people around the world have this experience, they inherit. Or they are employed into an organization, which is losing its shirt. And this might not have been clear in the interview process or is fobbed off. 

Then on the Monday morning, when you turn up to assume your new role as leader of this business, you look at a sea of red ink, and this is a particularly challenging thing. And that’s where you’ve got to be able to juggle both the immediate thing, which is in front of you, the easy thing, which is to cut cost out of the business, but without destroying the potential value that’s in that top line. 

So all of these require people who are agile, flexible, and hardworking because none of this happens without effort. You don’t put effort into something, it’ll wither away, and you won’t realize it’s withering away until somebody drops. 

Duff Watkins: [00:45:21] Usually, after the fact,  

Alan Haselden: [00:45:23] Usually it’s all hands to the lifeboats.  


Duff Watkins: [00:45:28] You’ve been listening to 10 lessons it took Alan. Haselden 50 years to learn. Today’s podcast is produced by Robert Hossary.  


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